Bill Schley is an award-winning branding expert, author, speaker and a life-long entrepreneur. He is President and Co-Founder of the firm BrandTeamSix and is known for creating the Dominant Selling Idea at some of the world’s most successful companies. He began his career as a writer at the legendary Ted Bates Advertising Agency in New York where he won an Effie Award for sales effective advertising. He later went on to create industry leading brands at companies he co-founded, as well as those he advised. In addition to The UnStoppables: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial Power, his fourth book and a New York Times Best Seller, he is author of Why Johnny Can’t Brand which won the award for “Top 5 Marketing Books of the Year” by strategy+business magazine; and The Micro-Script Rules — the book that teaches how to differentiate your business in a sentence or less. He has appeared on CNBC’s Street Signs, CNN Money Online and numerous syndicated radio programs. He is an experienced skydiver, ocean sailor and a graduate of Harvard University.
Part 2 of my interview of him will soon be available. Meanwhile, here is Part 1.
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Morris: Before discussing The UnStoppables, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Schley: My wife has a human moral compass that never deviates. Whenever I’ve needed a reminder about priorities or proportion, she’s always there and she’s always right.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Schley: My mentors at Ted Bates Advertising—the original Mad Men–made me appreciate the fact that a great IDEA could be the most powerful mover on this planet. And the best way to put your idea into other people’s heads is through story.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Schley: I was a co-founder of a business to business technology start-up in the early dot-com days. We needed to set our company apart with almost no budget in a field that included some of the biggest names in the business like Micro-Soft and Quicken. But we looked at what our competitors were promising and saying, none of them were using the kind of simple, time-tested branding techniques I had learned in my early advertising days– how to create a Dominant Selling Idea that sets you apart–then how to put it into the fewest number of vivid words so that customers not only remembered but wanted to repeat it.
So we took the great brand principles I knew and applied them. We found one big idea that resonated with customers, then we focused on it relentlessly and consistently in every communication we made. It worked like magic for our tiny company. The industry started talking about us because we’d given them an idea they could talk about. In a couple of years we were dominant in our category. It made me realize that this simple branding knowledge was a gift that good companies needed. So when we sold the original company, I opened my first brand consulting firm.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Schley: Although I was lucky enough to attend a great university, the most important part of my formal education came down to my relationships with three teachers in high school who believed in me and encouraged me personally. Because they believed in me, I believed that the things I dreamed about might be possible for me someday.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Schley: That you need to have more confidence in your own ideas and abilities because in the words of the great William Goldman speaking about the movie business: “Nobody knows anything.”
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Schley: Band of Brothers — about a team of soldiers in World War II who survived from D-Day all the way to Berlin. None could have made it alone—only as a true team. They had to risk together, get scared together, fight together and ultimately win together.
Morris: From which books have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Schley: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, the greatest human nature hand book ever written. And Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves, the book where he unveiled the Unique Selling Proposition—the USP. Read those two books and you’ll understand more about succeeding with customers than most of today’s CMOs.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Schley: Every conscious moment we humans are talking to ourselves, telling ourselves a story. “This is who I am, this is what I know.” No mind that’s made up ever wants to change. So the only way you can change it is to offer up a new piece of story that fits with the one they’re already running—that makes it better, more persuasive, more appealing. If they decide to merge your story with theirs, their minds can be changed. And ultimately it becomes their story—because the story’s about them, not about you.
Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”
Schley: Beware of those who think they’ve found the only truth. Because they become the brittle extremists, the dangerous ones. When you’ve found the “only truth” it’s never true.
Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Schley: Why Oscar Wilde is Oscar Wilde.
Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Schley: I heard the quote like this: “We can’t solve today’s problems with the same thinking that got us here.” Maybe a copywriter influenced that version. Either way, it’s the common sense reality that entrepreneurs operate with each day.
Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Schley: It’s bad to waste money on projects you know are frivolous. I agree.
Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?
Schley: It’s why entrepreneurs don’t generally relate to academics and consultants.
Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?
Schley: Yes indeed. There is no progress without mistakes and failure to learn, fix adjust and improve from. We fail our way to success. The best skier I know has fallen the most times. James Dyson the inventor of the bagless vacuum said: “I love mistakes.”
Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?
Schley: They like control too much. And sometimes, it means they don’t trust their subordinates.
Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?
Schley: Story is and always will be the most powerful form of human communication. A great leader is able to take his or her mission and transfer it into the hearts and minds of followers—so that they literally make the mission their own. They recognize themselves in the leader and the mission. Great communication skill is an imperative for any leader to be able to do this. So great communicators by definition master the greatest form of communication—story. Our affinity for, and actual psychic need to consume stories is boundless and built into our DNA.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?
Schley: First of all I wouldn’t characterize the desire for comfort and custom as tyranny. I’d call it humanity. The resistance to change is hard-wired; it comes from fear.
They only way to overcome it is to re-frame your understanding about fear as an individual, and to create cultures that mitigate fear—what we call belief cultures—if you’re leading a corporation. The key is that it can’t be lip service: leaders have to love and abide by a set of values that allow change, innovation and risk taking. They have to prove it to their employees every day in the their own actions. Action is character and every employee knows it.
Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?
Schley: This is a hard question to solve in a few sentences. We just wrote a whole book to answer it when it comes to entrepreneurship. We think MBA programs are teaching everything but the essence of what entrepreneurship is about. Business schools teach the mechanics of finance and business administration—all valuable skills for corporate job prospects. But entrepreneurship is about the emotional mechanics. It’s about knowing when to break rules, accepting the reality of risk, and sometimes, about not fitting in.
Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?
Schley: To build the genuine belief cultures that we talk about in The UnStoppables, versus the traditional corporate fear cultures and to do it in big organizations, not just small ones. Because only a belief culture based on leading to people’s strengths—a culture where people feel they are “valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission“ is the kind the will engage employees and unlock the entrepreneurial spirit that every company will need to compete in the global era. Nobody, no nation gets to rest on laurels any more. Companies will need every ounce of customer service power and creative initiative their employees can muster. And it can never be mandated, even purchased with monetary compensation–only volunteered.
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In Part 2 will soon be posted. During that portion of the interview, Bill focuses his attention on The UnStoppables.
He cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His website link
Brand Team Six website